Room at the Top

UK (1959): Drama
118 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

It's the good, familiar story of the bright, ambitious boy from the provinces who wants to make good in the big city. Stendhal set it in the post-Napoleonic period in The Red and the Black; Theodore Dreiser set it in the beginnings of industrialization in An American Tragedy. Here, the boy comes from the modern industrial slums of Yorkshire; he has acquired a cynical education in a Second World War German prison camp; and he has become a civil servant. Like Julien Sorel and Clyde Griffiths, Joe Lampton is on the make; unlike them, he doesn't get killed for his sexual transgressions, though he does get beaten up in a manner which suggests a ritual punishment. Like its predecessors, the novel is about class, money, and power--and about how sex, which is used to get them, traps the user. Joe (Laurence Harvey) is an aggressive young parvenu, a slum-bred man who wants to break through the class structure and get into the Establishment. The movie helped bring American adults back into the theatres--partly, no doubt, because of the unusually intelligent treatment of Joe's drives and the unusually blunt dialogue, but mostly because of the superb love scenes between Harvey and Simone Signoret. She's magnificent as the older woman whom he loves yet sacrifices to his ambition. Her sensuality is contrasted with the virginal shallowness of Heather Sears, as the rich girl he marries. With Donald Wolfit, Hermione Baddeley, Raymond Huntley, Donald Houston, and Ambrosine Philpotts. Directed capably, and with great emotional tact, by Jack Clayton, from Neil Paterson's adaptation of the John Braine novel; cinematography by Freddie Francis. Signoret won the Academy Award for Best Actress. (A sequel, LIFE AT THE TOP, also with Harvey, was made in 1965; it was directed by Ted Kotcheff, from a script by Mordecai Richler.)

Room Service

US (1938): Comedy
78 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

The Marx Brothers in the Broadway farce about bankrupt theatrical producers holed up in a hotel room with their stranded players, fighting off famine and creditors. Unfortunately, the play (by John Murray and Allen Boretz, adapted by Morrie Ryskind) fits them like a strait jacket. With Lucille Ball, Ann Miller, Frank Albertson, and Donald MacBride grinning his great bulldog grin. Directed (lamely) by William Seiter. RKO.

A Room with a View

UK (1985): Drama/Comedy
115 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Adapted from the early novel by E.M. Forster, this is a whimsical social comedy about a muddled young English girl (Helena Bonham Carter) who desires yet fears sexual love; she runs away from the man (Julian Sands) who stirs her emotions, and becomes engaged to a rich twit (Daniel Day-Lewis). Bonham Carter lacks the carriage and presence of a trained actress, and Sands, though likable, is playing Forster's flimsy--almost abstract--dream of a natural, uninhibited lover, and is rather vague. But the movie is well paced, and it never loses its hold on a viewer's affections, because it's so thoroughly inhabited. The actors who circulate around the heroine create a whirring atmosphere--a comic hum. They include Denholm Elliott (playing the novel's resident saint), Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Simon Callow, and Rosemary Leach; the young Italian lovers are played by Isabella Celani and Lucca Rossi. Full of allusions to art and literature, the movie is more than a little precious, but it's a piece of charming foolishness. It was produced by Ismail Merchant and directed by James Ivory, from a script by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala that pares down the text skillfully and takes much of its lively, dizzy dialogue directly from Forster. Shot in England and Florence, by Tony Pierce-Roberts. Released by Cinecom International.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.

Rooster Cogburn

US (1975): Western
107 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Pretty bad. A Western shoot-'em-up, with John Wayne wallowing in the role of the one-eyed U.S. marshal carried over from TRUE GRIT. Katharine Hepburn--her role lifted bodily from THE AFRICAN QUEEN--PLAYS the schoolteacher-daughter of a missionary to the Indians. When Wayne and Hepburn spar, it's mortifyingly blunt vaudeville, and their inevitable mutual admiration comes all too coyly soon. Stuart Millar directed, from a script written by the producer Hal B. Wallis, his wife, Martha Hyer, and others; they all hid--as well they should have--under the pseudonym Martin Julien. Universal.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.


US (1937): Musical/Dance/Comedy
122 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

Eleanor Powell, in her big smiles and big puffed sleeves, and Ray Bolger dance together--sort of. She also has a sort of romance with Nelson Eddy, who looks even more uncomfortable about the whole thing than she does--and romance was never her forte. W.S. Van Dyke directed this berserk MGM extravaganza, which was vaguely derived from a 1928 Ziegfeld show, and produced and adapted to the screen by William Anthony McGuire, a former Ziegfeld aide, who swamped the cameras with a cast of over 2,000 people. Sometimes there are so many showgirls surrounding Powell that you have to strain to see her tapping away, like a wholesome automaton. Bolger redeems a few moments, and the Cole Porter songs (which replaced the original Romberg and Gershwin numbers) are a choice group, including "In the Still of the Night," "I Know It's Not Meant for Me," and "It's All Over But the Shouting"--which are, however, staged execrably. Porter is said to have hated the title song, which Louis B. Mayer loved; Mayer's ear matched his eye--the sets are to make a person of taste weep. The cast includes Frank Morgan (as a Ruritanian king), Ilona Massey (making her film d�but), and Edna May Oliver, Jerry Colonna, Janet Beecher, Virginia Grey, Reginald Owen, Billy Gilbert, and George Zucco. The choreography is by Albertina Rasch.

The Rose

US (1979): Musical
134 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Bette Midler makes her starring d�but as an orgiastic rock 'n' roll singer in the last stages of burning herself out. This musical is set in the smoky, psychedelic night world of a young star who has leapt into the big money. Her story is told in hot Day-Glo pinks and reds and lavenders, with orange for her frizzy halo. (The cinematography is by Vilmos Zsigmond.) She sings frenziedly, trying to reach her emotional limits; she lives in planes, and when she lands she totters on high heels and blinks, bleary-eyed, at the sunshine. Directed by Mark Rydell and written by Bill Kerby and Bo Goldman, the picture is shaped to tear you up, and as one of the Dionysian stars (such as Janis Joplin) who ascended to fame in the 60s and OD'd, all within a few years, Midler gives a paroxysm of a performance--it's scabrous yet delicate, and altogether amazing. The movie is hyper and lurid, yet it's also a very strong emotional experience, with an exciting visual and musical flow, and there are sharply written, beautifully played dialogue scenes. Its largest weakness is in the conception of the bullying manager (Alan Bates); he simply isn't convincing--he seems to be in the movie for melodramatic purposes. But there's a scarily effective scene with Harry Dean Stanton as a stern, self-righteous country-music man, and Frederic Forrest is original and likable as the singer's army-deserter lover. Also with Barry Primus, David Keith, and four female impersonators--Claude Sacha, Michael St. Laurent, Sylvester, and Pearl Heart--who do a wonderfully loose, ribald number with Midler. She has eight others that she does virtually alone--"Midnight in Memphis," "Whose Side Are You On?," "When a Man Loves a Woman," "Love Me with a Feeling," "Stay with Me," "Sold My Soul to Rock and Roll," "The Rose," and "Let Me Call You Sweetheart," which she never finishes. She's a great performer. 20th Century-Fox.

Rose Marie

US (1936): Musical/Comedy
110 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Singing "The Indian Love Call," Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy are in a class of their own; the wholesome, hearty fakery of it is matchless. This is one of the liveliest and most popular of their kitschfests. It's set in the Pacific Northwest; she's an opera star and he's a Mountie who has arrested her brother (skinny young James Stewart). With Allan Jones and Reginald Owen. Directed by W.S. Van Dyke. MGM.

Rose of Washington Square

US (1939): Drama
86 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette

This movie, starring Alice Faye, is quite clearly cribbed from the life of Fanny Brice; the contrast would be entertaining if it were double-billed with FUNNY GIRL. When Alice sings the title song (an old Brice number), the lyrics are changed and "Roman nose" becomes "turned-up nose;" when Alice sings "My Man," her voice is lovely and velvety, but the song isn't very intense. The young bail-jumping sharper (based on Nicky Arnstein) who gives her her heartaches is played by Tyrone Power, who's more entertaining and plausible in the role than Omar Sharif was in the Streisand version. The period of the Ziegfeld Follies and speakeasy raids is re-created in the somewhat tacky 20th Century-Fox manner; the cinematographer, Karl Freund, gives the material some style, even though the director, Gregory Ratoff, doesn't seem to have a grip on the story. Fortunately, Al Jolson turns up and gives the film an authentic connection to its Broadway sources. Nunnally Johnson wrote the script (from a story by John Larkin and Jerry Horwin) and produced (under Zanuck). The cast includes Hobart Cavanaugh, Joyce Compton, Moroni Olsen, William Frawley, and Louis Prima and his band; among the many songs are "April Showers," "I'm Just Wild About Harry," and "Rockabye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody." The choreographer was Seymour Felix.

The Rose Tattoo

US (1955): Drama
117 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Tennessee Williams' Serafina (Anna Magnani) is a Sicilian-American widow still in love with the fantasy of her dead husband's perfection, a woman cut off from the life around her because nothing is as good as that dream (and, from the way it looks, the squalid Gulf Coast town around her isn't up to anybody's dream). Magnani's virtuoso display of vitality makes it almost frighteningly clear that her husband's perfection was his sexual potency. The weakness of the material is that the reduction of all human needs to sex is handled only semi-comically. Burt Lancaster is rather embarrassing as Serafina's not-too-smart suitor, though he has a funny scene when he chases a goat. Magnani won an Academy Award for her performance; Tennessee Williams reputedly wrote the role for her, though Maureen Stapleton played it on Broadway. Directed by Daniel Mann, the picture comes across as a rather foolish, goodhearted romp; with Jo Van Fleet, Marisa Pavan, Ben Cooper, and Virginia Grey. The cinematographer, James Wong Howe, also won an Academy Award. Paramount.


US (1977): Drama
103 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette

Three stories set inside the famous, still functioning dance hall on 52nd Street off Broadway, now a haven for nostalgic, aging people. In its hushed concern for their dignity, the movie denies them any spirit. According to the press, when this film was shown at the New York Film Festival it received a seven-minute standing ovation. Did those people stand up and cheer to get their circulation going again? The picture makes you feel that it was produced in 1936 but didn't reach the screen for decades because nobody had the vitality to thread the projector. Christopher Walken and Don De Natale, an actual m.c. at Roseland, are the only performers who manage to transcend the film's faded genteel sensitivity. With Teresa Wright, Lou Jacobi, Geraldine Chaplin, Helen Gallagher, Lilia Skala, and David Thomas. Directed by James Ivory, from Ruth Prawer Jhabvala's script; produced by Ismail Merchant.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.


Germany (1958): Mystery/Biography
99 min, No rating, Black & White

The American reviews suggested that it was a witty, stylized musical satire; it was widely compared to early Ren� Clair--probably by people who hadn't seen much early Ren� Clair. The film makes some attempts at musical satire and rhythmic editing, but it's fairly simpleminded stuff. Nine capitalists in their black Homburg hats step out of nine black Mercedes-Benz limousines and snap the doors shut in time to the music--that's about as close to the style of Ren� Clair as the Rockettes at Easter. And as for the reviewers' enthusiastic idea that ROSEMARY was some THREEPENNY OPERA of the 50s, well it's easy enough to see how they got the idea--the score is just a reprise of Kurt Weill's music, and the subject matter is social corruption. But who wants to eat a sausage when he can see what's being ground up into it? Rolf Thiele, the director, and his scenarist, Erich Kuby, are so busy stuffing in irony, horror, songs, and farce that we sit coldly examining the ingredients. The actual Rosemary Nitribitt was a high-class call girl who became a favorite of Frankfurt's postwar industrialists; it was thought that she dabbled in blackmail and sold information about the industrial manipulations of her clients, and she was found dead in 1957. Nadja Tiller, who plays the role, is a former Miss Austria; she--or perhaps her publicity agent--felt it necessary to explain that she had accepted the role because the film was not intended simply to show "the tragic fate of a prostitute but rather to produce a critique of our modern times. That takes courage. And since courage seems to be at a premium in our film industry, I felt morally bound to cooperate." The irony is that the best element of the film is precisely Nadja Tiller as a prostitute: she's one of the best whores who ever walked the screen. The critique of our modern times is labored and silly. With the suave Peter Van Eyck, and Gert Fr�be, Mario Adorf, Werner Peters, and Carl Raddatz. In German.

Rosemary's Baby

US (1968): Horror
136 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Pregnant women sometimes look at their men as if to say, "What did you do to me?" Rosemary (Mia Farrow), the Omaha-born girl who's now living in Manhattan, has reason to wonder, and this satirical gothic thriller, written and directed by Roman Polanski, from Ira Levin's novel, is told from her point of view. Rosemary's actor-husband (John Cassavetes) conspires with a coven, drugs her, and mates her with Satan, in exchange for a Broadway hit. It's genuinely funny, yet it's also scary, especially for young women: it plays on their paranoid vulnerabilities. The queasy and the grisly are mixed with its entertaining hipness. (It's probably more fun for women who are past their childbearing years.) Mia Farrow is enchanting in her fragility: she's just about perfect for her role. And the darkly handsome Cassavetes is ideal as the narcissist who makes the deal for a cloven-hoofed infant. Also with Ruth Gordon, Sidney Blackmer, Maurice Evans, Ralph Bellamy, Patsy Kelly, Charles Grodin, and Elisha Cook (Jr.). The cinematography is by William Fraker; the production design is by Richard Sylbert; the editing is by Sam O'Steen. Paramount.

Round Midnight

France-US (1986): Drama
131 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Most of Bertrand Tavernier's mournful, blue-toned movie, which, an opening title tells us, was "inspired by incidents in the lives of Francis Paudras and Bud Powell," is set in Paris in 1959. The French jazz enthusiast Paudras is now called Francis Borier and is played by Fran�ois Cluzet, and Powell, the great bebop pianist, who suffered frequent nervous breakdowns and then made a new life abroad, is now the dazed, alcoholic tenor-sax man Dale Turner, and is played by the near-legendary Dexter Gordon. The enthusiast is a saintly groupie. You know what kind of movie it's going to be when you see this guy out in a drenching rain, crouched against the building where the American is playing, because he doesn't have the money to go in. Cluzet is soaking wet, but his eyes shine and he listens to Dexter Gordon's music worshipfully. Soon he has become a friend of the black American giant. (Gordon is 6 feet 5 or 6.) Cluzet follows him around, takes care of him, and rescues him when he goes on a bender and is hospitalized; Cluzet becomes Gordon's keeper, treating the expatriate with the respect he didn't get in his own country. He treats him as the artist he is, and Gordon flowers into a courtly, gentle fellow, and begins to compose agian. But his self-destructiveness runs very deep, and so the picture is one crisis after another, with the saintly groupie running through the streets, searching for the imperilled saintly bopper. The way the picture is conceived, the musician is always on the verge of collapse or death. (Afterward, in the lobby, a woman said to her friend, "I'm worn out from worrying about him.") The French are pretty hard to take when they celebrate how much they love American art. The film is "respectfully dedicated to Bud Powell and Lester Young." Tavernier clearly identifies with the fan, and he probably cast Cluzet in the role because of his resemblance to Truffaut. (We're being told that Tavernier loves American movies as well as American jazz; he even shows us Cluzet making home movies of his idol.) Tavernier seems to be enshrining his own idolatry. The music itself has none of the mysterious teeming vitality of great bebop--it's lifeless. With Sandra Reaves Phillips, who shakes things up when she sings a good low-down version of Bessie Smith's "Put It Right Here," and Lonette McKee, John Berry, Martin Scorsese, Philippe Noiret, and many well-known musicians, including Herbie Hancock, who arranged and conducted the music. The script, which attempts to achieve a musical flow (and allows for improvised dialogue), is by David Rayfiel and Tavernier. A Franco-American film, produced by Irwin Winkler, released by Warners.


US (1987): Romance/Comedy
107 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Steve Martin is improbably light on his feet in this airy, modern love comedy based on Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac. He seems to crossbreed the skills of W.C. Fields and Buster Keaton, with some Fred Astaire mingled in. And as the stargazer Roxanne, Daryl Hannah gives off a womanly radiance--a combination of carnality and moonglow. Directed by Fred Schepisi, from Martin's script, this film is unabashedly romantic. It's set in the ski-resort town of Nelson, Washington (nestled against the mountains, it seems a dream-built locale, but it's actually Nelson, British Columbia). You want to go to the town; you want to go back to the movie. It has a mellow, dotty charm. With Shelley Duvall, Rick Rossovich, Shandra Beri, and a squad of volunteer firefighters who are like Keystone Cops. Cinematography by Ian Baker; music by Bruce Smeaton. Columbia.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.

Roxie Hart

US (1942): Crime/Comedy
75 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

Roxie (Ginger Rogers) is the 1926 sensation of Chicago--a flapper on trial for her life who has the time of her life while on trial. She is coached and defended by Adolphe Menjou--"Roxie's simple, barefoot mouthpiece"--in sequences that may be the funniest courtroom buffoonery ever filmed. The scriptwriter, Nunnally Johnson, provides a loving, satiric look at the speakeasies, floozies, and tabloids, with a glance at the forsaken rural boredom. (Roxie's farmer father, summoned to the long-distance phone and informed that she has been arrested on a murder charge, returns to the rocker on his porch, rocks for a while, and then says to his wife, "They're going to hang Roxie." The mother murmurs approvingly, "What did I tell you?") William Wellman directed, in a fast, broad, spirited style (though the end is the kind of studio-factory finish that no director can do anything with). The cast is first-rate: Iris Adrian is Two-Gun Gertie ("Got a butt, buddy?"); the reporters and photographers include Lynne Overman (whose vocal inflections could do as much for dialogue as Lee Tracy's), Phil Silvers, George Montgomery, William Frawley, and Spring Byington as a sob sister. Sara Allgood is the prison matron, Nigel Bruce is a theatrical agent, and George Chandler is Roxie's husband. Even Jeff Corey turns up in a bit. Adapted from the Maurine Watkins play Chicago, which was also filmed in 1927, with Phyllis Haver in the lead, and which also provided the basis for the 1975 Bob Fosse stage musical Chicago. 20th Century-Fox.

The Royal Family of Broadway

US (1930): Drama/Comedy
82 min, No rating, Black & White

Fredric March in one of his best comedy roles--a flamboyant burlesque of great-lover actor John Barrymore. The gossipy, thinly disguised satire of the Barrymore-Drew clan was a Broadway hit in 1927; Herman J. Mankiewicz and Gertrude Purcell adapted (and improved) the Kaufman-Ferber play, and the young George Cukor (co-directing with Cyril Gardner) had the right theatrical instincts for the material. The film presents actors as childishly vain and narcissistic; as Cukor has said, "It represented what people at that time liked to believe about the theatre." The picture is stagebound and awkward, but good fun anyway. As Ethel Barrymore, the expert, sophisticated stage comedienne Ina Claire doesn't come through fully on screen (she did only once--in THE GREEKS HAD A WORD FOR THEM), but some of her legendary technique is in evidence. With Henrietta Crossman as the family matriarch, Frank Conroy, Mary Brian, and the stodgy juvenile Charles Starrett. Paramount.

Royal Flash

UK (1975): Historical/Comedy/Adventure
98 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette

Richard Lester directs George MacDonald Fraser's adaptation of one of his novels celebrating the inglorious career of Captain Harry Flashman, of the 11th Hussars (Malcolm McDowell), a rotten, snivelling Victorian coward. It's a parody of movie heroics, especially of THE PRISONER OF ZENDA, but Lester is on his own antic wavelength, and he doesn't try to tune us in. The characters don't care about each other, and we don't care about any of them. Lester has done all this carousing and pratfalling before; his inventiveness is beginning to seem desperate, compulsive--as if he kept piling on the jokes because he was bored. With Oliver Reed, Alan Bates, Britt Ekland, Florinda Bolkan, Alastair Sim, and Lionel Jeffries; cinematography by Geoffrey Unsworth. 20th Century-Fox.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.

Royal Hunt of the Sun

UK (1969): Historical/Drama/Adventure
118 min, Rated G, Color

As the Inca king, Christopher Plummer arrives carried on a litter and dressed in feathers, and he hisses and prances like a mad queen; Robert Shaw, trying to play Pizarro straight, is howlingly upstaged. (Shaw keeps staring at Plummer and his pale-blue eyes get more and more bewildered.) No doubt Plummer should be chastised, but he's so outlandishly entertaining, and the movie is a mess, anyway. Peter Shaffer's play is an exercise in the heroic style of historical confrontation: he trumped up reasons for the Inca king and Pizarro to be trapped together. This theatrical convention stops the film cold--people stand on rocks and make speeches. With Leonard Whiting as the boy-put-there-to-be-disillusioned. Directed by Irving Lerner, from Philip Yordan's script. Though Lerner was himself a highly respected editor (his last work was on CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, which is dedicated to him), the editing here is the kind that gives you the shot an instant before anything happens in it. Cinema Center.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.

A Royal Scandal

US (1945): Comedy/Biography
94 min, No rating, Black & White

Tallulah Bankhead gave this sex farce about Catherine the Great a sort of low glitter, but it's not much of a vehicle. (Unhappily, poor as it is it's one of the few halfway decent screen roles she ever got.) She does wonders with a few line readings, and the fine young actor William Eythe (he died at 38) has some splendid comic moments with her. The cast includes Charles Coburn, Anne Baxter, Vincent Price, Sig Rumann, and Mischa Auer. The script, which is marred by horseplay and dumb wisecracks, is by Edwin Justus Mayer; directed by Otto Preminger. 20th Century-Fox.

Royal Wedding

US (1951): Musical/Dance/Comedy
93 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

The director, Stanley Donen, tries to make this musical buoyant, and Fred Astaire, Jane Powell, Sarah Churchill (yes, the daughter), Peter Lawford, and Keenan Wynn all work at it, but the magic isn't there. It's jaunty at times but not more than that. The script by Alan Jay Lerner is weak and the songs by Lerner and Burton Lane are not all they are sometimes said to be. Produced by Arthur Freed, MGM.

Ruby Gentry

US (1952): Drama
82 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

A feverishly-almost campily-operatic story of passion turning to fury. The setting is North Carolina. Blue-blooded Charlton Heston loves Ruby (Jennifer Jones), but she's a poor swamp girl, so he marries a woman from a proper background. Ruby lands the richest man in town, is widowed, and proceeds to avenge herself on everyone who has ever done her dirt. Heston is her prime target; he has been involved in a large-scale endeavor to reclaim marshland. She terminates the project with the order "Stop the pumps." That may sound like a put-on, but the movie doesn't mean to be funny. King Vidor directed, in the seething, extravagant style he employed in parts of DUEL IN THE SUN and in such outr� items as BEYOND THE FOREST and THE FOUNTAINHEAD. With Karl Malden, Josephine Hutchinson, and Tom Tully. Russell Harlan did the cinematography; Sylvia Richards wrote the screenplay, from a story by Arthur Fitz-Richard. 20th Century-Fox.

Ruggles of Red Gap

US (1935): Comedy
92 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Charles Laughton starred in this justly honored version of the venerable comedy by Harry Leon Wilson. (There were two earlier versions--one in 1918, and one in 1923 with Edward Everett Horton--and a later version in 1950, called FANCY PANTS, with Bob Hope.) The Laughton film, directed in a calm, restrained style by Leo McCarey, is just about irresistible, even with its big scene--Laughton, an English valet in the Old West, reciting the Gettysburg Address in a saloon, as the camera pans across the awed faces of the cowhands. It's a bit much, but it works like magic. The cast could hardly be better: Roland Young is the Englishman who loses the valet in a poker game, Mary Boland and Charlie Ruggles are the rich American couple who win him, and ZaSu Pitts is the widow the valet courts. With Maude Eburne, Lucien Littlefield, Willie Fung, Libby Taylor, and Leila Hyams. Paramount.

Rules of the Game

France (1939): Drama
113 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc
Also known as LA R�GLE DU JEU.

Perhaps the most influential of all French films, and one of the most richly entertaining. Jean Renoir's legendary butchered and then restored masterpiece is a farce about a large houseparty, gathered for a hunt, where the servants and masters begin to chase and shoot each other. The party at the country ch�teau is a tragicomic world in motion; ironically, once the whole mechanism is spinning the man who begins at the center of it--the romantic aviator (Roland Toutain)--is flicked off. With Marcel Dalio as the Marquis, Julien Carette as the poacher, Gaston Modot as the gamekeeper, Nora Gregor as Christine, Mila Par�ly as Genevieve, Paulette Dubost as Lisette, and Renoir as Octave. The script, by Renoir, assisted by Carl Koch, was derived from Alfred de Musset's Les Caprices de Marianne. Cinematography by Jean Bachelet and J.P. Alphen; costumes by Chanel; Cartier-Bresson served as an assistant director. Released in Paris in 1939 after being cut by the distributors; cut again after violent audience reactions; banned as demoralizing by the Vichy government and then banned by the Nazis. The original negative was destroyed when the Allies bombed the studios at Boulogne; the picture was reassembled (from 200 cans of film and bits of sound track) and restored in the late 50s. Selected by the 1962 international poll of critics as the third greatest film ever made. In French.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.


US (1935): Drama
77 min, No rating, Black & White

Paramount, having succeeded at the box office with the pseudo-primitive sexuality of BOLERO, pushed its luck the next year in this attempt at a follow-up. George Raft and Carole Lombard carry on some wriggling activity that is meant to be dancing. The film is beyond disaster. With Lynne Overman, Margo, Iris Adrian, Gail Patrick, Monroe Owsley, and Samuel S. Hinds. Directed, in a spirit of hopelessness, by Marion Gering.

The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!

US (1966): Comedy
126 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Alan Arkin as a Russian sailor, and Carl Reiner as a vacationing New York writer, in a comedy about a Russian submarine going aground on an island just off Cape Cod. Norman Jewison directed this too warmly rambunctious entertainment, which was actually shot in Northern California. With Doro Merande hanging on a wall (the best gag in the movie), Brian Keith, Jonathan Winters, Eva Marie Saint, Ben Blue, John Phillip Law, Paul Ford, Theodore Bikel, and Tessie O'Shea. The script, by William Rose, is based on Nathaniel Benchley's novel The Off-Islanders. United Artists.

Ruthless People

US (1986): Comedy
93 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

A lot of normally bright people seem to like getting dumbed-out when they go to movies in the summer, and that may explain the whooping-it-up hot-weather audience for this cheesy low farce, with Danny De Vito as a thieving millionaire who wants to kill his heiress wife (Bette Midler) and is overjoyed when she's kidnapped. With Judge Reinhold and Helen Slater (who has good eyes for rolling) as the warmhearted kidnappers; Anita Morris as the husband's mistress (she looks as if she could do considerably better); Bill Pullman as the mistress's ninny of a lover; and William G. Schilling as the police commissioner. Directed by the AIRPLANE! threesome--Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker--from a script, by Dale Launer, that provides a semblance of clever construction, though you see each complication being set in place. (The plot is a reworking of an O. Henry story that has served many other screenwriters, as in the 1958 TOO MANY CROOKS and the 1967 THE HAPPENING.) Touchstone (Disney).

Ryan's Daughter

UK (1970): Romance/Drama
176 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Gush made respectable by millions of dollars tastefully wasted. Sarah Miles marries Robert Mitchum but experiences rapture with Christopher Jones. Directed by David Lean, on a cosmic scale, from Robert Bolt's script. With John Mills, Trevor Howard, and Leo McKern. Cinematography by Freddie Young; music by Maurice Jarre. MGM.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.

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